Jack Ketchum’s short story collection, Peaceable Kingdom, showcase’s the master of horror’s ability to write more than just brutality, blood, and guts. Peaceable Kingdom has stories which invoke a wide variety of emotions including fear, disgust, humor, and of course, cruelty, blood, and guts. Some of my favorites include:
The Rifle – A story in which a mother discovers a rifle in her young son’s bedroom closet. While this may not seem like an incredibly elaborate plot, Ketchum takes the story in an unexpected direction and ends it with a twist which sets the tone for the rest of the collection.
The Box – During the holiday season, a mother and her children are sitting together in a subway car, when a stranger allows her young son to look inside the box he’s holding. After this, the child does not want to eat anymore, and it shakes the family to the core.
Mail Order – A man orders a snuff film and to his surprise, he recognizes the victim in the video as a woman he used to date.
Luck – In this western, a couple of men sit around a campfire recounting the tale of Little Dick West who many have claimed has been killed on multiple occasions but seems to always come back around.
The Haunt – In this horror comedy, a Fort Lauderdale strip club is haunted by a ghost who does not approve of the entertainment the establishment provides.
Megan’s Law – A convicted child molester moves into a quiet neighborhood and the neighbors aren’t so thrilled with the idea.
If Memory Serves – A young woman with multiple personality disorder opens up to her psychologist about the severe abuse she experienced as a child in the hands of a Satanic cult. Easily one of the most brutal and extreme horror stories in the entire collection.
Twins – Brother and sister twins witness the horrifying and sexually compromising death of their father and then go on to have a sexual relationship with each other.
Forever – Told from the perspective of a man whose wife is afflicted with cancer, this story is tragic, romantic, horrifying, and incredibly sad all at once.
Closing Time – In this novella-length story, a married man is forced to break up with his mistress despite neither wishing to end the relationship. Elsewhere, a clever thief escalates his crimes by toying with his victims. What happens when these three come together makes for a tragic tale of love, heartbreak, and tragedy.
An honorable mention goes to The Holding Cell for Ketchum’s ability to make the reader feel as helpless and as confused as the narrator of the story. However, this story didn’t seem complete. This is the criticism for the majority of the stories in the book. Many are well-written as expected of Ketchum’s talent, but lack resolution making the stories feel incomplete. As a result, it left me feeling slightly confused about what had happened in the story or wondering if I had missed something important in the narrative which justified the closing of the story without a resolution.
Overall like many anthologies and collections, stories are going to be hit, miss, or in the middle. Peaceable Kingdom is more miss than hit and none really fall into the middle category. This is disappointing considering how much I enjoy Ketchum’s novels and writing style. I would recommend the anthology if there were more of a balance or perhaps more stories which could be considered middle ground.